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Case study: Digital returns

Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation

As a Returning Native Title Materials case study AIATSIS is working with the Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation (ETNTAC) to document their returns process.

In 2014, the Federal Court formally recognised the native title claim of the Esperance Nyungar people in Western Australia. The research material used for the case was held by the native title representative body (NTRB) the Goldfields Land and Sea Council (GLSC). Following the recognition of Native Title, ETNTAC requested the return of the materials held by the GLSC which was complicated by the GLSC going into administration in July 2020. The National Indigenous Australia Agency (NIAA), asked AIATSIS to assist in the return of these materials to ETNTAC with the current administrators of GLSC, Grant Thornton.

GLSC held more than 900 archive boxes of material and 3.5 million digital files relating to the various claims it was involved in over the years. This significant cache of documents, recordings and information has undergone identification and simple classification through a digital forensic analysis process. 72 boxes and 15,000 digital files were identified as associated to the Esperance Nyungar claim. These research materials are crucial to ETNTAC’s future strategic plans and in asserting their rights to control and use their cultural knowledge.

In November 2019, representatives from AITSIS, Grant Thornton, ETNTAC and a native title practitioner, met in Perth to begin the co-design process for the transfer of materials from GLSC to ETNTAC. The group discussed issues, timeframes, responsibilities, and schedules relating to the transfer and a number of key resolutions were made regarding cataloguing, management and access. AIATSIS will continue to document the process and provide advice and skills where necessary.

A group of people meeting around a table

Attendees at the Digital returns scoping meeting in Perth, November 2019.

Project team

Christiane Keller